New Orleans Hospitals Barely Coping

At Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans, patients are being treated despite severe conditions. Dr. Jeff Myers says his hospital is non-functioning, cell phones haven't worked in four days, and power is sporadic. Looters have attempted to enter the building several times. The city's Charity Hospital is also overflowing with patients.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Dr. Jeff Myers is chief of pediatric heart surgery at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans. When we talked to him last night, Tulane Hospital had just evacuated its last patient to another facility.

Dr. JEFF MYERS (Tulane Hospital): We have no elevators. We transported every patient--you know, 800-pound patients we've transported down the stairs in the dark. The hospital is non-functioning. I'm on a cell phone, but it's only been working for the last two or three hours. Cell phones have been out for the last four days as well. So we've had no access to the outside world, really, at all.

MONTAGNE: Soon after getting Tulane's last patient out, Dr. Myers and his staff had to begin tending to the hundreds of patients coming in from Charity Hospital across the street. Most of these people are in critical condition, and this has him worried.

Dr. MYERS: We certainly have no medications. We've used most of our critical-care medications. You know, the helicopters that come to take patients usually will bring oxygen. Whatever comes on the helicopters is what we use. We've certainly used all the drugs in our pharmacies. If we were to have a patient that were to have a cardiac arrest or code, we simply wouldn't be able to do anything for that type of patient.

MONTAGNE: Those now coming through the hospital are arriving by boat. The sick are then carried to Tulane's roof, the only one in the area that's been converted into a heliport. They're then flown to another facility, one that has electricity, power and medicine. Transporting these ICU patients is a difficult task. It's also dangerous under such dire conditions. One case concerned Dr. Myers the most.

Dr. MYERS: It's a 15-year-old child with severe heart failure. He requires a device that pumps for his heart. And, you know, we had everyone from surgical residents to people from the pharmacy department and emergency medical technicians trying to get this 300-pound machine down four flights of stairs into the helicopter. And the problem with that is when he's disconnected from the machine, it's not pumping his heart for him, so he has to be transported on a stretcher with someone pumping his heart for him by hand. This is about a 25-minute ride for him.

MONTAGNE: Being in these tough situations is not new to Dr. Myers. In this instance, he says the hardest part has been not knowing how things will end.

Dr. MYERS: I've been in Third World countries. I've been in Nicaragua and I've been in Africa. But I think the difference is the absolute fear here. I mean, they haven't--people haven't lived like this their whole life. There's no adjustment to it. Every hour is going to continue to get worse. I mean, we hear gunfire. We hear everything. I mean, one of our biggest fears is every time the sun goes down, things get worse.

MONTAGNE: Jeff Myers is chief of pediatric heart surgery at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans.

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